Friday, October 30, 2009

Incredible India Day 1

Throughout the voyage returning passengers have told us of the struggle that is India. That the port is dirty, the city is dirty, the officials make our visit difficult, shop owners jack up prices and cab drivers try to scam us. My supervisor the dean of students used the phrase “Prepare to have your senses assaulted.” I did hear some positives as well. One of my favorite shipmates, Tonya has traveled to India a fair amount and her husband is Indian. She told us about the great food, the kind people and the beauty that India has to offer. I tried my best to have an open mind.

In the days leading up to our arrival the staff was debriefed on the situation of the port: singing in and out every time we left the port gates, nearly 150 Indian officials boarding the ship and eating, sleeping, living, working from the ship for our 5 day stay, armed guards at the base of the gangway, face-to-face verification of all passengers and crew members by Indian customs before our departure…the list seemed to go on and on. Again, I tried my best to have an open mind.

The morning of our arrival we went out for sunrise we had a slightly larger group than normal to send off Tonya, she would be leaving us to visit her family in Northern India and then head back home to NYC. The pollution in the air made it difficult to see the sun for a while but suddenly over the layer of smog and soot the sun began to appear and our first day in India began.

The LLC team took to our stations, passing out shore passes, customs forms and a copy of passports. Students were eager to begin their adventures, going to the Taj Mahal, 3 day Yoga workshops, visiting Dalit villages and more but to be honest I was not so excited. My lungs were already feeling the smoke and dirt in the air and my eyes were burning slightly. I was trying my best to put on a happy face for our students.

A group of us were heading to do some shopping so we got in a taxi just off the gangway and made our way to the port gates. We began to see groups of students walking back to the ship and we were curious as to what was going on. The story that follows could have developed into an international security and safety situation. For the continued safety of all involved I will wait to share the story until we are safety planted back on US soil. (OK its not THAT crazy, but we were a bit sketchy so you’ll have to wait for the full story) Driving away we were thankful that everything turned ok and acknowledged that it could have been a bad situation.

Sounding like a broken record, the traffic in Chennai was crazy. Rickshaws were everywhere and could often be seen driving on the wrong side of the road. The sidewalks were covered with merchants, trash and dogs so for the most part people had to walk in the street. Approaching round-abouts was like a test of courage and faith just hoping that the direction we were going would work out and that the people coming towards us would make way. I very quickly decided that I never wanted to drive in India. It occurred to me that I have not driven a car in about 70 days and wouldn’t for another 45.

We got out of the taxi and walked to a hotel to ask for directions. The big name hotels are like a strange oasis among the squalor. Behind high walls the dirt, traffic, and smell of India disappear. Inside the hotel was like stepping into a different world. The female staff dressed in beautiful saris, the men in suits welcomed us. We had initially only intended to ask for directions but decided to stay for lunch and it was well worth it. We were the first ones in the restaurant and the waiter pretty much ordered for us; chicken, duck, shrimp, all kinds of spices and chutney and of course plenty of bread. AB and I asked for some not so spicy options and he was wonderful bringing us plain white rice and yogurt to calm down any of the food that was a bit much for us. We spent nearly two hours enjoying conversation and the amazing food before venturing back out into the bustling city to do some shopping.

We went to one large store where the ladies shopped for a few saris and I fell asleep standing up waiting for them. Feeling refreshed, I continued with the group as we walked about a mile to an outdoor market area. There were plenty of shops and opportunities to get gifts and anything ‘India’. As our supervisor had prepared us for, it was a bit of a sensory overload. The different smells, different languages being shouted around us, total visual over stimulation with all the fabrics, jewelry, food, people, and traffic got old after a while and I chose to head back to the ship for a free dinner and to pack for my trip to the Taj leaving the next day.

I took a rickshaw by myself and hoped for the best. The driver was very kind and pointed out things along the way, the cricket stadium, the shopping malls and the University of Madras. We maneuvered between other rickshaws, buses, trucks, and cars with ease on his part and total fear on my part. At times we were so close to other rickshaws I felt as though the passengers next to me were actually sharing the same rickshaw. Having been told that sometimes the drivers will not take you where you want and then make you pay more to actually get to your location I was a bit nervous until I saw the port gates. I signed back in with the port agents and walked about a half-mile back the quiet comfort of the ship.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


My brother Cormac and his girlfriend Mary got engaged!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


On October 15th we arrived in Mauritius, a small island the size of Rhode Island near Madagascar for a quick three-day visit. Mauritius was our Spring Break port. Most of our students rented villas on different areas of the island, the majority of the SAS trips were more about fun than education and our deans plan was to play 4 rounds of golf.

It was our earliest sunrise yet but I am a creature of habit so out I went. I did however go back to bed and didn’t bother watch our entry into the port. The first day a group of us went to “the best Chinese restaurant in Mauritius" I however was hungry before we got there and in a moment of weakness enjoyed McDonald’s. Okay- give me a break, we were about 50 days in and I just wanted some comfort food and a Big Mac fries and a coke filled the void. I still tried some of the food at 'First Restaurant' but was not so impressed.

My colleagues and I walked the markets of down town and through china town buying our postcards, t-shirts, magnets and wine. Side note – I got an e-mail from my mom (the cute little Irish woman) telling me not to drink too much and that my Octobeard needs some fertilizer. Don’t worry mom, I didn’t even buy any this time. In our walk about town we found a little shop that I was very excited about. We went back to the ship for dinner and I just had a relaxing and quiet night on the ship doing some journaling.

The second day I was a trip leader for a trip to the Adventure Park and Flick en Flack beach. Because of the large number of us they split us up, some going to the park first then the beach and vise versa. I had wanted to go to the park first but the bus leader had already left in the second bus to go to the park so I didn’t want to send a group of students without a staff member. While I was a bit disappointed as first it really worked out in my favor as I only had 8 students and the other staff member had over 40.

The beach was fine, nothing amazing but not a bad way to spend an hour. The Adventure Park was basically a ropes course through an angry swarm of mosquitos, luckliy the first group warned us so we swam in bug spray first. It was also a bit more intense than we had anticipated. It started with a collection of bridges that got progressively trickier – missing planks, no handrails etc. The real challenge began, rope nets, log sings, zip lines, net tunnels... There were some mild injuries and many of us were sore the days following. I don’t have any pictures of me, but once I get some from the students in my group I’ll post a few. I am sure there is at least one of me upside-down tangled up in some ropes. Awesome.

I was on duty that night and learned that when a student comes back pretty intoxicated we put them in the showers out by the pool. This student was kicked out of a bar and then fell in the street and some other SAS student who didn’t even really know her brought her back because her friends stayed in the bar! The nurse on call told us to take to her to pool deck and as the student couldn’t stand on her own, I made a quick stop in my room to put on my swim suit and proceeded to hold up this young lady in the shower. I'm pretty sure I did not read that in my job description. Over all the night was not a difficult one but I was up pretty late dealing with the student and writing the report.

I didn’t wake up the next day until noon and had to be back on the ship at 6:00 so my idea of going to the beach on the other side of the island was shot, but I was not that disappointed. I just walked around town again, had some nachos and watched people set up for the start of Diwali, The Hindu festival of lights that evening. It was then back to the ship to welcome students back for our next crossing to India. As we set sail the fireworks began and while it would have been amazing to celebrate with the people of Mauritius it was equally as cool to see the celebration as we sailed away.

India, here I come.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Octobeard The Halfway Point

Well ladies and gentlemen October is half over and my octobeard is looking good. For your viewing pleasure.

The last day in Cape Town

My last day in South Africa took me to new heights. After a few cool and cloudy days Table Mountain finally showed its top again and I was going to get up there. I had a quick breakfast and saw B and invited her to join G and I. So with my smuggled PB&Js we were off. This hike is best described as a 90-minute Stairmaster work out on crack. The path is well maintained and tries to be hiker friendly but I was taking steps almost waist high.

It was wonderful having a nice physically active day just before we were about to board the ship for another 6-day journey to Mauritius. The views were beautiful all the way and we stopped often to take the opportunity for photos. G was making great time and was a fair bit ahead of us prompting me to call him a mountain goat. I have since learned that the space between us was merely a self-preservation technique. You see, like the big bad wolf G huffs and puffs as he hikes. He didn’t want us to know, but he later told us and now I’m telling you. You’re welcome.

With G far ahead B and I enjoyed the hike we shared. B has worked at UCLA for the past number of years so we laughingly compared this to hiking Runyan Canyon where you can often find the Housewife of the Hollywood Hills walking with their Starbucks or Red Bulls in hand and cell phones firmly planted on the side of their face. We passed a fair number of groups (which being rather competitive always makes me feel good about myself) but must admit this uber couple that G still curses to this day smoked us. I had asked G to stop for a photo and he maintains that it is for this reason and this reason alone that the couple passed him.

Once to the top a chill was indeed in the air and the clouds were beginning to roll in. I was happy I had my running tights on and quickly pulled my running gloves out of my bag. Some students we saw on top who were very cold were impressed and jealous of my degree of preparedness. (I owe that to my dad). We stopped in the café to get a coffee, eat our sandwiches and warm up a bit before taking a few more photos and looking at some of the educational stuff.

Not long after we climbed into the cable car to ride down the mountain and found our way back to the waterfront. In my final hours I made yet another visit to the mall to pick up a few last things before meeting the staff to work re-embarkation. As we had been prepared for, many of our students took advantage of the tourist friendly port and local bars to indulge in a few final drinks before re-boarding which provided a fair number of laughs and eye rolls as students stumbled up the gangway. With a smile on my face I encouraged them to go have some dinner and sadly our time in South Africa came to an end.

I was sad to leave but I am confident that I will return to South Africa again. In my journeys so far I am more and more tempted to move abroad and become an ex-patriot. At this point Cape Town is on the top of my list.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

You should be in pictures!

I forgot about this until I was looking in my desk drawer this morning! While E, G, and I were at the bar one night this woman whose name we later learned is Irene asked me if I was a model and said I look like some actor whom I have never been compared to before and I kindly said no, but thank you. I didn’t pay much attention to her but enjoyed the complement none the less. In my incessant people watching Irene and I made eye contact a number of times. A short time later she came across the bar and said “I had it wrong – you look like Keanu Reeves” a comparison I have gotten on a few occasions. She again asked me if I was a model and I said no. She looked to E and G and asked if we were locals and I shook my head and said that I live in Los Angeles. Her eyes lit up and went into her purse and gave me her card and told me to send her some pictures if I was interested.

I know how pompous this sounds but this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened. It is however one of the more legit situations where its not a modeling school looking for me to pay them, or some sketchy guy at a fashion show in SF who said his friend has a clothing line who needs models and then stalks me for a year (but that’s another story). Should I send Irene a few photos and tell her I’ll be back in LA in December?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Cape Town Day 5

Our last full day in Africa was pretty low key. It had been a full few days prior of late nights and really early mornings so I spent time cleaning my cabin and getting my life back in order before going out to the waterfront again. Doing some shopping, sitting at a café having a GREAT bowl of soup and watching people go by and writing out a few postcards.

I have gotten to the point in the voyage where I could really use a weekend. Don’t get me wrong, my job is pretty easy and my days are not difficult but sometimes you just need a day or two to be in your apartment to watch some TV, catch up on personal e-mails, make some phone calls and the such. Well on the ship you are either working or in port. The ship is a totally different place while in port- as it should be. It is calm and quiet (and the internet is much faster) but I feel guilty not spending every moment I have off the ship. Anyway, that morning I made peace with it and allowed myself the opportunity to sleep in and get a few things done. Oh! It was also a bit cold and rainy that day so that only played into my 'stay in my cabin' mood.

I tried to rally the troops to go out that night for our last night in Cape Town but the troops were weary and we had plans to hike Table Mountain the next day so I was asleep a bit before 10pm. I think my body was trying to tell me something.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Kruger 3 day Safari

One of the SAS trips I was most looking forward to was the 3-day safari. Our group of 40 couldn’t all get on the same flight so we were split between a 6:30am departure and an 8:30am departure. I was pleased that I was on the 8:30 flight until I got a call from our field office coordinator at 6:29 telling me that the travel agent made a mistake and I was only the early flight and that I needed to be on the bus in 3 minuets. Seriously! I had packed before going to the bar the evening prior but some of the other 5 students who got the same early call were not so lucky. One student on my jeep ended up only have shorts and t-shirts- and it got pretty cool at times. I think he learned to pack the night before.

After my heart rate returned to normal and I was on the bus to the airport I was excited for our adventure to begin. We had a short layover in Johannesburg before making our way to Nelspruit, in northeastern South Africa. Our layover in J-burg allowed the late group on a direct flight to arrive in Nelsrpuit just moments before us. We all got on the bus and made way to our hotel, the Sabi River Sun Resort which was amazing. After getting situated we climbed into our safari jeeps and made the short drive to the Kruger National Park for our sunset safari

Kruger is the largest game reserve in South Africa covering 7,332 sq miles from north to south and 37 miles from east to west. All the Big Five game animals are found at Kruger National Park, which has more species of mammals than any other African Game Reserve.
As of 2009, the park has counted approximately:
27,000 African Buffalo
350 African Hunting Dogs
350 Black Rhinoceros
4,509 White Rhinoceros
17,797 Burchell's Zebras
500 Bushbucks
200 Cheetahs
300 Common Eland
5,114 Giraffes
5,798 Greater Kudus
3,000 Hippopotamus
1,500 Lions
1,000 Leopards
2,000 Spotted Hyenas
11,672 Elephants
5,000 Waterbuck
9,612 Blue Wildebeest
90,000 Impalas

While I can’t say that I saw all of the animals I am pretty sure I saw all 90,000 impalas. When we began our driver joked that he couldn’t guarantee that we’ll see any animals besides the impalas and we quickly figured out why. They were everywhere. They were the first animal we saw and appropriately so we were very excited but by the end of the three days the impala received no love from my jeep.

The first sunset safari was great and we saw most of the big 5, including a lioness sitting on a rock in the sun. One of the ship psychologists was in my jeep with me and the students were a good bunch. We had a great time and laughed a lot along the way. Getting back to our hotel for dinner we were spoiled with an amazing BBQ and complementary drinks. Some of the students and I watched the soccer games and enjoyed some South African beer before calling it a night. I took a few moments to go outside look up at the clear sky and full moon and as I tried to soak in the experience that I may never have again. Like many times already on this journey I asked ‘what is my life? How fortunate am I?!” I went back to my room and made a few brief phone calls to folks back in the states and fell asleep after an incredible day.

While not trying to disregard the great experience the next day and a half were more of the same, driving through the park, seeing amazing animals and beautiful vistas. One of the highlights of day two was seeing a pack of lions feeding on something they had just killed. While it was rather gruesome as we could hear the lioness ripping the muscle and hide and the breaking of bones of her lunch it was truly intriguing to see animals surviving, as they only know how. Sad to leave but excited to further explore Cape Town we left the hotel and made our way back to the airport for our flight back. I took over 200 photos so i'll share a few of them here with any more on facebook.

The early morning proved to be a challenge for our group so we took turns sleeping between animal sightings

While the impala is a pretty animal, they were everywhere and we lost interest in them just as much as they did of us.
Hi monkey!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

South Africa: Octo-beard and Day 1

Before I begin my story of South Africa, I must first welcome you all to October. With October upon us I have decided not to shave for the month and in doing such I am growing an Octo-beard. I’ll be giving updates all month long. (As if I didn’t say enough in my blogs already)

Ok- down to the business at hand:

Amazing, beautiful, wonderful, what else can I say about our arrival to South Africa. If you have been reading along by now you know the drill: wake up early, meet A and E and wait for the sun to rise and our arrival into XYZ port. This time we had a lot of students join us and to be honest I was a little bitter, as if the three of us owned the sun rise experience and the rest of the people joining us are only doing it because they heard how amazing the arrival into Cape Town was. (I’m working with our shipboard psychologist to get over my issues but I am not there yet.)

Anyway, like I said it was beautiful. With a cheer from the students the sun quickly rose and South Africa began its day. We passed Robben Island where Nelson Mandela served his jail sentence; we could see Table Mountain and the soccer stadium, which will hold the World Cup next year. Our arrival into the V&A Waterfront Port was great. No more shuttles or mile walks to the port gates, no more cargo ships next to us. We were literally docked outside a mall and I have the credit card bill to prove it.

The first day I walked the waterfront with A, E, and G checking out the mall, listening to street musicians, buying souvenirs and researching the great South African wine we would enjoy over the next few days and weeks. Now, we have reached the point in the journey where I have begun to miss some things and all week I had been saying how I wanted nachos, so imagine my joy when a group of us went to dinner and they had nachos on the menu! It was a magical experience. The group of us had a great time as usual, loving our first dinner off the ship after a long voyage from Ghana.

After dinner E, G, and I went out to a hookah bar and sure enough our ‘grown ups’ evening was crashed by a group of students as we heard our names screamed from across the bar. Remember the feelings of seeing your third grade teacher outside of school for the first time. It’s like that the first time students see us off the ship in every port. We said ‘Hello’ then tried our best to ignore them and carry on with our conversation and hookah. A while later the students left and we soon did as well, heading for another bar a few blocks away.

The second bar was fun but it didn’t take long to realize that this time, we had come across our students. At that point we threw caution to the wind and knew that we couldn’t win. We danced with them a bit and enjoyed our drinks responsibly while encouraging them to do the same. E, G, and I made our rounds checking out the different levels of the bar and chatted with some locals up on the rooftop patio before I had to surrender for the evening because, you guessed it, I had an early start the next morning.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Military Escort

For our last day in Ghana I went back into town for lunch and shopping with Ana. The street vendors figured us out very quickly and asked Ana and I if we were from the ship. They told us that many students had purchased things from them and that they would even give us ‘last day deals.’ I bought a few small items but was saying ‘No, thank you’ much more than ‘Yes, please.’ While we had stopped for lunch the sky opened up and a short but heavy rain storm passed through prompting Ana and I to enjoy our spicy chicken sandwich and cokes at a very slow and casual pace.

The rain passed and we continued with our shopping before getting in a cab to take us to the grocery store and post office. The drive was another exercise in faith and fear; a number of the roads had turned into rivers and at best were dotted with small lakes. The cab driver was great and while he did have to ask where the grocery store was multiple times he was patient as I ran in to purchase my two bottles of wine. Going into the grocery store alone was a neat experience and being the only white person in there made it even more so.

Upon reaching the port gate the cab driver could go no further. So Ana and I got out walked through the gates and proceeded to look for the SAS shuttle from the gate to dock 11 where the ship was. Realizing that we had come in a different gate than normal I was prepared to walk but Ana started to ask around as to where we got the shuttle. Various gentlemen in military uniform said they didn’t know anything about a shuttle. Ana explained that we were on the Semester At Sea ship and that we had a shuttle from the gate to the ship. We were passed off to a few different people. "Oh, the tourist vessel" we heard in reply.

We were told to stay where we were and some time later a cab was brought in for us. We told the guy that we were not going to pay a cab and asked if we could just walk to the ship. After a slight hesitation he finally gave us the 'okay' and we began the mile walk to dock 11. While we received many inquiring glances as we did not have a reflective vest on and clearly didn't belong there we just kept walking making way for semi trucks and other equipment. Along the way we were happy to find a duty fee shop and used the opportunity to spend the rest of our cedi. Ana got some chocolate and I got a case of coke. Feeling inspired by the culture and more so my weak arms, I chose to carry my soda on my head.

Overall I was pleasently surprised by my time in Ghana. I really didn't know what to expect so maybe that helped. As our interport student told us, the Ghanaians are very friendly. From tour guides and children, to street vendors and waiters everyone had a wonderful smile on their face and was happy to help. Of the three ports so far I think Ghana would be for first place that I would return to.

The next day we crossed the equator and had a big ceremony to mark to occasion but I'll save that story for next time.

Cape Town here we come!